Review - Kooza: How can you not love a show that features The Wheel of Death?

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Perhaps shows would get better reviews if they all offered critics free champagne before the performance and unlimited trips to the chocolate waterfall at intermission, but even without the edge-removing libations and shots of sugar buzz, Cirque du Soleil's Kooza, now drawing gasps and cheers under the big tent at Randall's Island, is both a soothing kaleidoscope of color and movement and a flat-out, adrenaline-surging rush.

Created and directed by David Shiner, Kooza, combines low-down (family-friendly) burlesque clowning with feats of physical prowess that won't just have you exclaiming, "How do they do that?" but perhaps more frequently, "Why do they do that?"

There a bit (a very small bit) of a plot, involving a young innocent (Stéphan Landry) who opens a surprise box containing a mischievous and sharply-clad fellow called The Trickster (Mike Tyus), who pops out and introduces the lad to a world of danger, exotica and very healthy men and women in tights. The show's name comes from the Sanskrit word for treasure box, and there is an Indian and Hindu influence evident in Jean-Francois Cote's score (played by six pieces and a vocalist above a 2-tiered band stand), Florence Cornet's make-up and many of Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt's beautiful costumes. Lit by Martin Labrecque, the design of Kooza is sumptuously soft and inviting.

But of course, it's the amazing feats of physical artistry that are the main attraction. Contortionists Julie Bergez, Natasha Patterson and Dasha Sovik enter tangled in a clump that care be barely distinguished as a human form, then proceed to bend their bodies into spine-snapping angles, often using each other's contorted figure as a supporting platform. Yuri Shavro and Diana Aleshchenko perform romantic balletic movements while maneuvering a unicycle and solo trapeze artist Yulia Korosteleva flies with elegance.

Double high wire performers Angel Quiros Dominguez, Vincente Quiros Dominguez, Angel Villarejo Dominguez and Flouber Sanchez walk and bicycle across parallel tight ropes, balancing their partners as well as themselves, and Zhang Gongli balances himself on a thin tower of chairs as he stacks more and more atop each other. A chorus of aerialists flips through the air from their teeter-totter launching pads.

But the star display of acrobatic machismo comes from Carlos Enrique Marin Loaiza and Jimmy Ibarra Zapata as they enter - you guessed it - The Wheel of Death. This enormous metal contraption consists of two hollow wheels, maybe twenty feet in diameter, orbiting each other vertically on opposite ends of a rotating axis. When one of the fellows enters a spinning wheel he must continually be in motion in order to remain upright. Loaiza and Zapata take turns entering and exiting both the insides and outsides of the wheels as the orbit increases to an insane speed. The guys run, skip rope, leap and dive across the apparatus until the crowd goes nuts with cheers and applause. This one's a real showstopper.

Keeping the evening merry is a troupe of clowns, headed by Gordon White as a wise-cracking king and Lee Thompson as a pickpocket specialist, both involving audience members in their antics.

While I can do without seeing a performer in a dog costume peeing in and aisle, and the cannons blasting confetti into the audience gets a bit overdone, Kooza is a classy, fun and exciting night out.

Photos by Oliver Samson Arcand: Top: Yulia Korosteleva, Bottom: Stéphan Landry and Company

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From This Author Kristin Salaky